Wednesday, June 10, 2015

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

This is one of those books I thought I should read.  I wasn't especially enamored with the cover or the concept of the book - people who are part of an ancient text.  But, the story caught me and has held me.  I have found myself talking about this book to several different people.

So - what was it that changed my attitude?

The story is about Hanna, a book restorer (my title, not hers).  She is a rather non-descript woman who has grown up in the very tall and dark shadow of her brain surgeon mother who sort of sucks all the air out of any room she enters.  Hanna has made quite a name for herself in the world of book conservators, but will never measure up to her mom's ideal.  That is the back story.

The real story is of the Haggadah - an ancient Hebrew text used at holy Seder meals.  This book is rediscovered in Sarajevo following the Bosnian war and Hanna has been invited to check it out and rebind it for the next millennia.

Hanna discovers three minute artifacts in the binding - an insect wing, a hair and a blood stain.  This is where the book really launches, because it tells the story of each of those artifacts in real time. So it is really a story inside a story.

What I found the most intriguing was the story of the book itself.  I am not a historian - so the generations of anti-Judiasm woven into this story really took me by surprise.  I know about WWII and how the Jews were treated - I just didn't really understand that this hatred had been part of their lives forever.  So as the Jews are admired for their wisdom and their abilities they are also scorned for their wisdom and their abilities.  AND woven throughout this entire book are stories of Muslims and Christians who have been able to look at the person and not the religion to help save this ancient text.  It really struck me!  We live in a world where we think we have evolved yet we are muddling through the very same problems that existed thousands of years ago!  That doesn't say very much for progress.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in history and in the secret life of a book!

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